06.11.2017 |

Surge in agrifood mergers threatens farmers and consumers, report warns

Agrifood mergers are driving industrialisation along the whole food chain (Photo CC0)

Ever-fewer, ever-larger corporations are concentrating control at every stage of the food chain, from field to fork, a new report shows. According to the Agrifood Atlas released by Friends of the Earth Europe and two German political foundations, this could have dire consequences for future food production. Between 2015 and 2016, five of the largest 12 mergers between publicly-traded companies came in the agrifood sector, with a total value of almost US $500 billion, the report found. “Takeovers and mergers like Monsanto by Bayer, Kraft with Heinz and Dow with DuPont are just the tip of the iceberg,” the authors write. “A spate of corporate marriages is concentrating control at each link in the value chain.” They warn that in many parts of the agrifood sector, individual corporations have gained so much market sway that they have the ability to shape markets and policies. “The increasing size and power of agri-food corporations threatens the quality of our food, the working conditions of the people producing it, and our ability to feed future generations,” said Mute Schimpf, campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

The organisations behind the report fear that the growing consolidation in the food chain could lead to less consumer choice as increased monopolies are putting the food chain into fewer hands. They say almost half of all food sold in the EU comes from just ten supermarket chains while 50 food processing companies account for half of all global food sales. In addition, the concentration also has a negative impact on jobs and working conditions: “Agrifood corporations are driving industrialization along the entire global value chain, from farm to plate. Their purchasing and sales policies promote a form of agriculture that revolves around productivity,” the report reads. “The fight for market share is achieved at the expense of the weakest links in the chain: farmers, and workers. The price pressure exerted by supermarkets and food firms is a major cause of poor working conditions and poverty further back in the chain.”

The authors highlight that mergers and market concentration in the agricultural sector are also promoting the onward march of industrial agriculture and its associated effects on the environment and climate. The loss of soil fertility and biodiversity, marine pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases are all partly due to the spread of industrial farming. “As a result, global biodiversity and the variety and independence in our food chain are at risk. Activists fighting for the right to access to water, land and seeds are met with ever more violent public or private repressions all across the world,” according to Barbara Unmüßig, President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. The publishers highlight that the report comes as the European Commission faces a crunch decision on whether to authorise the Bayer-Monsanto mega-merger, and after Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan's announced intention to rein in supermarkets' outsize buying power. “The EU can play a leading role in rejecting these consolidations. An alternative food system is possible and is being built by local food producers and citizens across Europe,” adds Mute Schimpf. (ab)

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